Scientists in Trinity College Dublin have developed a new inexpensive and efficient way of splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen.

The discovery could help make possible the energy efficient production of pure hydrogen, in a manner that might potentially speed up its use as a clean renewable fuel in transportation.

Until now hydrogen has been produced through the splitting of water using electricity – a process known as electrolysis.

But because this has required large volumes of energy, which cost a great deal, it has hindered the mass uptake of hydrogen as a fuel.

It also requires the use of a scarce and expensive oxide, called ruthenium.

Researchers at the CRANN Nanoscience Institute have, however, discovered that the splitting process can still be achieved using the inexpensive and plentiful substitute, manganese dioxide.

In fact, they found that the process works even if the ruthenium content is reduced by up to 90 per cent.

“The adoption of this material in industry will mean that electrochemical hydrogen generation using photo (electrolysis) is now far more economically viable and will hasten adoption of hydrogen as a fuel in energy efficient transportation,” said Professor Mike Lyons, Principal Investigator at CRANN and School of Chemistry at TCD.

Hydrogen is considered by many experts to be the ultimate clean energy source, as it is pollution free and abundant.

Details of the research were recently published in a paper in the journal ACS Catalysis.